Do the Orioles have a rivalry with Washington? (updated with starters)

I read a lot of different columns and even fan message boards on a daily basis. In some aspects it helps me to write this column every day, but on a sheer personal level I enjoy baseball “chatter.” I came across this thread on a Washington Nationals’ message board yesterday regarding whether or not the Baltimore Orioles and Washington are rivals. Interesting topic to say the least, especially in the hearts and minds of the people in the mid-Atlantic region.

Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun

First off, if you read through it predictably turns into an Oriole-bashing thread. However the question at hand is whether or not there’s a true “rivalry.” I would submit that rivalries are formed on the field and/or by the players more so than they are by fans. Certainly the fans can go back-and-forth in bars and even on message boards or columns such as this one about what happens on the field, which adds fuel to the rivalry. However, has this series had any on-field moments that would elevate it to the level of “rivalry?” It matters what you consider rivalry-worthy I guess:

  • 2006 – Washington wins the first “Battle of the Beltways” by taking two-of-three in May at RFK Stadium. (The Orioles won two-of-three in the Baltimore leg of the series, however Washington took the first ever series between the two teams.)
  • 2007 – Washington unceremoniously sweeps the Orioles at Camden Yards.
  • 2008 – Washington’s Ronnie Belliard hits a walk-off home run in the final game of the series at Nationals Park off of George Sherrill, spitting at Sherrill as he goes into his home run trot.
  • 2010 – Washington’s Josh Willingham hits a walk off home run off of the Orioles’ Cla Meredith, giving Washington a 2-1 series win in the DC leg of the series. One month later at Camden Yards, the Orioles overcame serveral deficets and came back to sweep Washington (taking the season series for a second consecutive year).
  • Overall - The two teams have played 42 regular season games against each other since 2006. Ironically (since most of the above-mentioned highlights are in Washington’s column), the Orioles hold the edge with 23 wins to only 19 for Washington.

Some of those weren’t really the type of highlights that would arouse animosity, however walk off homers are something that fans tend to remember. Aside from Belliard appearing to spit in Sherrill’s direction, there’s nothing there that would really fuel bitterness. I doubt that we’ll ever see hatred on the level of Boston/New York due to the fact that these teams met only six times a year from 2005-2012, and moving forward it’ll only be four times a year. Furthermore and more importantly, they don’t compete with each other in terms of standings.

I’m not sure that rivalry is the right term, but perhaps there is a certain competitiveness between the two sides given the geography involved. I wouldn’t compare it to that of the New York or Chicago franchises. Those teams actually play in the same city, and while you’d be hard pressed to argue that Baltimore and Washington aren’t in the same “area,” they are two distinct cities. But I guarantee you that Baltimoreans’ knuckles don’t drag on the ground like some Washingtonians want to believe, just as Washingtonians aren’t as whiney as Baltimoreans claim. Having said that, I would suggest that this “rivalry” is a bit more “on the map” than perhaps Tampa/Miami, Texas/Houston (although that one could heat up with Houston now being an AL city), or San Francisco/Oakland.

Fans in the Baltimore/Washington area can see every team in baseball within a one hour’s drive (give or take). Not a lot of places can say that. Both cities also are coming off of playoff years, which is another thing that most areas can’t claim. I would submit that fans on both sides should simply take the attitude that we’ll root against you when we see you. Other than that, the two teams are mutally exclusive. (I’m not naive; I know the agreement between MASN and the two teams. However that has nothing to do with what happens on the field.)  For the record, anyone that was at any of the six games between the two teams last season knows what a great atmosphere they had. I would submit that those games were the franchises’ first tastes of big time baseball. The two teams will meet this year in Washington DC on May 27th (Memorial day) and 28th, and in Baltimore on May 29th and 30th.

Update: According to Roch Kubatko of masnsports.com, the O’s will send southpaw Zach Britton to the mound to start Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against Minnesota at Ed Smith Stadium. Jake Arrieta is also expected to see time in the game, although it’s unclear for how long. Buck Showalter will start Jair Jurrjens on Sunday against Toronto in Dunedin, FL. I wouldn’t read too much into these moves; someone has to get the ball in these games!

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